Hillsborough County Commission moving to stop wage theft

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The Hillsborough County Commission has moved a little closer to combating wage theft. At Wednesday’s meeting commissioners voted to have an attorney draft a wage theft ordinance. Before the vote the commission listened to emotionally charged stories of residents who have had their wages stolen by employers.

Wage theft has many forms, like not paying overtime or withholding earnings and not paying on time. For unmarried low wage workers and families struggling to make ends meet, a fraudulent gap or reduction in pay can be overwhelming. Brian Black, one of several people who spoke during public comment, said he and his wife were hit hard with wage theft.

“My own wife is a victim of wage theft at a time when we were struggling the most to get her through nursing school. She was told to show up at work and go clean toilets and do bar clean up off the clock. And if she didn’t like it, she could go get another job. I actually had to take on a second job to get us over that hump. This happens to people who need money the most and who are struggling the most.”

Hillsborough County ranks second in Florida for wage theft, according to a study of US Department of Labor statistics by Florida International University. Bruce Nissen, the chief architect of the study, said wage theft are things like….

“not paying people for overtime if they have worked more than 40 hours. Making them work off the books. Shaving their hours by falsely claiming they worked less hours. And in extreme cases not even paying them at all. Not paying the minimum wage. Various ways not paying workers what they’re due.”

Nissen went on to say that passing an wage theft ordinance is only part of the solution to a bigger problem.

“It’s a reaction against the incredible inequality that’s grown in our country. It’s a reaction against the poor treatment of low wages for working people in this country. It’s all part of a larger groundswell of protests against the unfairness and the inequality that’s growing in our system.”

Commissioner Kevin Beckner, who proposed the wage theft ordinance, doesn’t see it as a financial burden. He agreed with commissioner Stacy White’s proposal to conduct a cost analysis.